The Hasidim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe - Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, may his memory be for a blessing, still talk of the shofar blowing of their holy Rebbe on Rosh Hashanah with great excitement.
Each year, the Rebbe would enter the large synagogue in New York, holding three shofars that he himself would blow, and behind him, four “meshamshim” would follow holding bundles filled with notes of 'Pidyon Nefesh' – a Hasidic custom in which followers write to their Rebbe and ask him to pray on their behalf.
These four bundles were placed on the bimah during the shofar blowing, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe would stand among them, as if the prayers of all his Hasidim were enveloping him and would rise with the sounding of the shofar, a storm ascending heavenward.
This special and moving image accompanies me these days, just before the upcoming Rosh Hashanah and the new year, which we hope will be a good one for us. In ancient times, the Israelites would stand from a distance and watch the kohanim (priests) perform the service of G-d, but today, there are no longer any priests who offer sacrifices on our behalf. We, with our own hearts and mouths, perform the holy service – accepting the yoke of heaven, confessing our sins and seeking atonement for our transgressions.
And as we approach this sacred time, standing to pray, each one in their own tradition and the tradition of their ancestors from generation to generation, we are not standing alone. Alongside us stand our families - our children and parents, for whom we pray for their future, their health and their peace of mind. Alongside us stand our relatives and friends, for whom we pray for their livelihood, their well-being and their success. Alongside us stand all of the Jewish nation, both near and far, for whom we pray, and for ourselves, for a good year.
Each and every one of us stands like high priests before the Master of the Universe and beseeches Him for us, our loved ones, our friends, and all our brothers and sisters to deal with us in mercy, beyond strict judgment, just as He created the entire world with the attribute of mercy. How can we ask for mercy from the Blessed be He if we do not also approach our fellow human beings with mercy, both those close to us and those distant, in moments of disagreement and difficulty?
Let us accept upon ourselves this year to be faithful messengers of G-d's kindness. To be angels for His goodness and mercy, to see all His creatures with a good eye and with the faith that He sees each and every one of us.
May it be His will that just as Rosh Hashanah is like the head of the body, and what happens in it affects the entire year, so too may our prayers and deeds be pleasing to Him throughout the year, and may we also merit this year to be inscribed in the Book of Life for goodness, joy, health, livelihood, and peace – together with the tribes of Israel.
Wishing you a Shana Tova - a good and sweet year.
- Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.